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Success is Personal

I’ll tell you a short story today, if you don’t mind.

About 15 years ago, maybe more, maybe less, I was training for an MMA fight. Someone put me in a collar tie while wrestling, and as is normal, I resisted and tried to pull my head up. There was a strange sensation in my neck, not pain really, more of a weakness. I had to sit out the session.

A few weeks later I was hitting pads with my buddy, and he called for 2 left hooks, low to the body, high to the head. I hit the low shot well enough, but when I went high, it felt like I’d been sitting on my hand for too long. It was completely dead. My wrist folded on the pad, which would ordinarily be painful, but actually I felt nothing.

I went for an MRI to confirm what my physio suspected, and I was told I had disc and nerve damage to my neck. Surgery was the only thing that was going to fix it. It would mean removing the disc from the neck and fusing 2 vertebrae.

I did what any sensible person would do. I said “No thanks!” and just continued training and ignoring any pain or weakness. I was like the lads in that Simpson’s episode who dig down too far in search of treasure, and then when they realise they can’t climb up, decide “We’ll dig our way out!”

So I dug my way out for about 8 years before biting the bullet. The surgeon wondered how the hell I’d been able to train and teach, such was the extent of the bony spurs impeding the nerve. He put in a very cool looking X shaped brace, a plastic washer instead of a disc, and 4 screws into my spine. Very cool.

In my hospital bed afterwards, I was a bit miserable. In truth, I was miserable for weeks before it, sure that my time of training hard and enjoying myself on the mat was over. I felt like Ray Liotta in the last scene in Goodfellas, I was going to be an average nobody. I was happy enough that I wouldn’t be in pain anymore, and to be able to do things like lift up my daughter without pain (something you should never take for granted), but I was still contemplating a life without training properly. I knew I’d be able to teach, but I’d miss the mat battles.

Then the next day in comes the head nurse. I think there’s something about being a senior nurse. You must have to do a bullshit removal course to get there, or maybe you’re just jaded of hearing other people complain. Anyway, she gave me the “How are we today?” and I went in on how my training life as I know it was over and I’d never get to train my beloved Jiu Jitsu blah blah. Now if that sounds grim and not like me, I would say that I was on morphine and it may have loosened my tongue. Anyway, she rolled her eyes and said “Poor you. You know how this is the spinal ward? Well you’re about the luckiest person in here.”

Well now, that shut me up. That evening, I registered for a tournament that was taking place 6 months later. I took a silver, and it remains the medal I think of as a real success.

And my point is this- Success is the challenge in front of you. To some, it’s world championships and gold medals. To others, it’s facing the fear of competition. Too others, it’s changing their lifestyle to something better. And to others still, it’s walking into the training environment in the first place.

If you'd told me as a 29 year old that I'd think of that silver medal as one of my best achievements, I'd have laughed, but I still look at it on the medal rack in Kyuzo and remember.

And my second point is that moaning gets you nowhere. How lucky was I to be living in a 21st century first world country that allowed me to get a surgery like that? Feeling sorry for yourself is the road to nowhere.

Anyway, there’s your Monday read.

I’ll see you on the mat soon for some battles!


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